- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

DIPLOMATIC WEATHER

Most of us Washingtonians love to complain about the weather. It is too hot, too cold, too rainy or too dry. And Heaven help us when it snows.

Sometimes it takes a foreigner to put things in perspective.

“You have a Mediterranean climate. I love it!” exclaimed the new Greek ambassador, Vassilis Kaskarelis, as he settled into his new embassy office overlooking Massachusetts Avenue. “I spent 10 years in Brussels. It rained all the time.”

Mr. Kaskarelis served previously as Greece’s ambassador to NATO and to the European Union, both headquartered in the soggy Belgian capital.

In those positions, he pursued Greece’s top foreign-policy goals: anchoring the often fractious Western Balkans into the trans-Atlantic military alliance and the European political and economic union. He helped Bulgaria and Romania join both organizations.

“For us, it’s extremely important to establish peace and stability in the region,” Mr. Kaskarelis said.

However, he is worried by what he called “enlargement fatigue” among some European officials who believe the EU, with 27 member nations, has become too large.

“In Europe, there is a kind of enlargement fatigue,” he said, adding that some Europeans also dismiss the Balkans as a backward area of the Continent.

“The Balkans are not the backyard of Europe. They are the front yard. What happens in the Balkans has an effect on the rest of Europe,” he said. “We have to push very, very hard to keep the Balkans on the European agenda.”

U.S.-Greece relations remain practically trouble free, he said.

“Our relations are at an excellent level,” he said.

Mr. Kaskarelis, who talked to Embassy Row after he presented copies of his diplomatic credentials to the State Department on Wednesday, is a career member of the Greek foreign service.

His assignments included tours of duty in Cyprus, Italy, Germany and Turkey, as well as Brussels and New York, where he served as Greece’s deputy U.N. ambassador from 1995 to 2000. He was ambassador to NATO from 2000 to 2004 and to the European Union from 2004 until he assumed his position in Washington.

Although he just arrived here Sunday, he left Thursday for a foreign ministers’ summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the sunny Greek island of Corfu.

ETHIOPIA COMPLAINS

The U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia is leaving the East African nation with government officials still hurling complaints at him over the State Department’s annual human rights report.

Ambassador Donald Yamamoto defended the report, which includes a long list of allegations against the Ethiopian government, in an interview with the Ethiopian Review magazine.

“We try to make it accurate and effective as possible,” he said, explaining that many of the charges come from eyewitness accounts.

“We do talk to government officials, including at the local level, about the situation. … We try to do our best. Overall the report is very accurate.”

The complaints against the Ethiopian government include “unlawful killings, torture, beating, abuse and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces.”

After the release of the report in February, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. Embassy of collecting false information against the Ethiopian government.

Mr. Yamamoto, who expects to return to Washington next month, will serve as deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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